Paul Copan’s When God Goes to Starbucks: A Review

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Who is Paul Copan?

Paul Copan is a familiar name to those formally engaged in the defense of the Christian worldview.  He has authored ten books on topics related to Christian apologetics and edited eleven others.  (When God Goes to Starbucks is but one of a series of four books by Copan which refute relativism.  These books include,   “True for You, But Not for Me,” “That’s Just Your Interpretation,” and “How Do You Know You’re Not Wrong?)[1]  Copan was formerly on staff at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries where he served as a lecturer, writer, and researcher, and at First Presbyterian Church of Schenectady, NY where he served as a member of its pastoral staff.  He has held professorships at several institutions; Copan is currently a “professor of philosophy and ethics…at Palm Beach Atlantic University”[2] where he occupies the Pledger Family Chair.  Copan holds an MDiv from Trinity International University and a PhD in Philosophy of Religion from Marquette University.

Coffee Shop Conversations

According to Copan, “Cafes are a natural place to engage in conversations about God.”[3]  Given his experiences of doing just that, he authored When God Goes to Starbucks as a popular-level “coffee shop book.”[4] In this book, Copan attempts to equip the reader to engage in simple apologetic conversations, the subject and depth of which are common to coffee shop discourse.  Thus, When God Goes to Starbucks should not be thought of as a comprehensive philosophical and theological guide to Christian apologetics.  In other words, God has gone to Starbucks, not the Areopagus. Although the book covers fourteen anti-Christian slogans (or objections to the faith) with apologetic implications, it does not cover all of them in great depth.  In short, the book is a simple preparatory tool to answer very specific apologetic questions.  Rather than turn the worldview of the coffee-shop-objector to the Christian worldview upside down, the arguments in When God Goes to Starbucks are intended to send him away from the coffee shop with (as Greg Koukl might put it) a stone in his shoe.

Categories of Thought

At least a one of the fourteen anti-Christian slogans which Copan identifies and addresses should be familiar to any Christian whose faith has ever been challenged (whether internally or externally).  What may not be as familiar (or, more accurately, as apparent) to such Christians are the categories of thought to which the slogans relate.  Copan breaks When God Goes to Starbucks out into three parts that address three categories under which Copan classifies these slogans.  These categories are: Slogans Related to Truth and Reality (addressed in Part I), Slogans Related to Worldviews (addressed in Part II), and Slogans Related to Christianity (addressed in Part III).   Copan addresses the categories progressively, laying a foundation by first addressing slogans having to do with truth and reality, and building upon that foundation by next addressing categories having to do with worldviews and Christianity.

Part I: Slogans Related to Truth and Reality

The slogans addressed in Part I of When God Goes to Starbucks are grounded[5] in moral relativism and, to defend against them, Copan first makes a case that a moral standard is needed in order to move from is to ought.  Then, Copan shows that relativistic moral standards are ultimately contradictory.  Seemingly relativistic statements such as “People can do what they want—just as long as they don’t hurt anyone,”[6] are actually absolute statements.  Such statements are ultimately absurd; morality must be objective to be meaningful.  Finally, Copan shows that objective morality is defensible against trap questions such as “Is it Okay to lie to Nazis?”  Questions such as these presume that lying is objectively wrong and imply that an answer to the positive denies objective morality.  Such questions, Copan argues, discount the relevance of motives.   The concept of lying, for example, must be separated from the concept of deceiving in the same way that the concept of murder is separated from the concept of killing.  Motive and permissibility must be considered in making moral judgments

Part II: Slogans Related to Worldviews

The slogans addressed in Part II of When God Goes to Starbucks are based in misconceptions about God, misconceptions about miracles, misunderstandings of the ramifications of religious experience, and misunderstandings about sexuality (specifically homosexuality).   Copan demonstrates that a right understanding of humility and praise, especially as demonstrated by the sacrificial death of Jesus, renders a correct conception of the character of God.  God is not, as one slogan accuses Him of being, arrogant and egotistical.  Rather, God, who is worthy of praise for His creations, “has a realistic view of himself.”[7] With regards to miracles, Copan demonstrates that miracles are not appropriately understood as “unscientific” (as some understand them to be) because the scientific method is not property applied to “direct acts of a personal God that can’t be predicted or explained by merely natural causes or processes.”[8]  With regards to the oft-criticized believable nature of miracles, Copan states that “Biblical miracles are both theologically plausible and historically and archaeologically supportable.”[9]  In other words, believing in miracles is not a matter of being gullible but a matter of understanding the best explanation of the evidence for a given event.  Most notably, in regards to the reasonableness of believing miracles, Copan refutes the Humean notion that miracles are only believed upon by “ignorant and barbarous”[10] people.  Copan demonstrates that, even in scripture, such people were skeptical of miracles.  Hume’s claim doesn’t stand.  Another, yet very different, claim that does not stand is the claim that all religions are valid because people all religions experience God.  Copan responds to this claim by stating, “People can experience God, even if not savingly.”[11]  So, then, it’s not experiencing God that matters but what results from those experiences (a saving relationship with Christ).  In regards to the assertion that people are born gay, Copan notes that such a claim, while strong in political clout, lacks scientific evidence.  Copan further points out that, even if such a claim could be proven, ones being born gay would not morally justify any homosexual acts that one commits.   Naturally, where the nature of homosexuality comes up, the issue of gay marriage comes up.  Copan examines the most popular arguments for gay marriage and notes that many of them are based in an idea of fairness.  Copan concludes, “…appeals to “fairness,” (are) likely rooted in moral relativism. This raises the question, Why think humans have any rights—including a right to gay marriage— at all? Moral relativism undermines any appeal to rights; if rights exist, relativism is false.”[12]

Part III: Slogans Related to Christianity

The slogans addressed in Part III of When God Goes to Starbucks are based in misconceptions about the imprecatory Psalms, drawing false parallels between Islam and Christianity in regards to Holy Wars, misinterpreting eschatological claims, and misconceptions about the nature of the church.  Copan argues, in response the accusation that the imprecatory Psalms are vindictive and hateful, that these Psalms merely seem that way to modern, western readers.  The sentiments expressed in these Psalms are consistent to those expressed similar ancient near eastern writings.  Like similar writings, the imprecatory Psalms express “anger at injustice and oppression.”[13]  However, unlike other ancient near eastern writings, the imprecatory Psalms call for relief from the true and living God; the causes of the imprecatory Psalmists are just.  In addressing Holy Wars, Copan delineates between biblical Holy War (such as the Israelites’ taking of the Holy Land) with unbiblical Holy War (such as the Crusades of the Middle Ages).  In a Biblical Holy War, directives from God are carried out by men according to God’s purpose.  In an unbiblical Holy War, directives from men are carried out by men according to man’s ill-conceived notion of God’s purpose.  Jihad is clearly a case of the latter and, when compared side-by-side with biblical Holy Way, Jihad fares poorly.  In addressing the claim that Jesus mistakenly predicted his own first-century second coming, Copan carefully breaks down the nuances of Jesus’ eschatological utterances to show that Jesus did not, in fact, predict a first-century second coming.  The last slogan Copan addresses is one that objects to Christianity based on the existences of doctrinal and denominational differences.  Copan’s response to this objection is summarized best in two statements: (1) “Not all professing Christians are genuinely or consistently Christian,”[14] and (2) “Believers are connected through their union with the triune God in Christ, not a denominational label.”[15]

An Evaluation

Paul Copan hits his mark with When God Goes to Starbucks.  The book is well-organized and makes clear, concise defenses against the anti-Christian slogans presented.  Furthermore, the anti-Christian slogans identified by Copan are fairly typical of those that Christians face in every-day apologetic situations; they are relevant to contemporary Christian apologetics and evangelism.  The defenses Copan presents can, in fact, be trusted to put a stone in the shoe of the coffee-shop-objector to Christianity.

Unfortunately, the book can also put a stone in the shoe of the reader.  I took exception with Copan’s delineation between lying and deceiving.  Granted, such delineation does exist but, in my opinion, it does not exist to the degree to which Copan claims.  I believe it is okay to bluff (deceive) in a game of chance, but I do not believe it is okay to lie to Nazis.  I also took exception with the statement, made in regards to the imprecatory Psalms, that “we should keep such imprecatory prayers in their ancient Near East context rather than impose modern standards on them.”[16]  The Bible (any literature) should certainly be read in its historical context; however, morality is constant across time and space; we can’t absolve the Psalmists of moral culpability because they are from a different time and seem less offensive than other ancient near eastern writers.  I do not believe that the Psalmists were immoral in their writings, but for other reasons than those given by Copan.

It may be the case that if Copan were writing a more in-depth book, he would have taken the time to flesh out the nuances of his arguments in more detail.  This is not the case with When God Goes to Starbucks.  Doing so is not in the scope of the book, and that could pose a problem for readers who stop their study at the popular level.  Eventually some of the philosophers at the Areopagus are going to want their caffeine fix.  If someone meets such a philosopher at Starbucks and isn’t prepared with defenses more in-depth that what Copan presents in When God Goes to Starbucks, he may be at a loss in defending his faith.  For this reason, I would not recommend this book to someone with a popular-level interest in Christian apologetics.  I would recommend it, however, to someone with a serious dedication to apologetic and theological study.  Copan makes many able defenses for the Christian worldview and shows how to present them in an efficient and effective manner.

SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY

Copan, Paul. When God Goes to Starbucks: A Guide to Everyday Apologetics . Kindle Edition. Baker Publishing Group, 2008.

Credo House Ministries. When God Goes to Starbucks: A Guide to Everyday Apologetics. June 29, 2008. http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2008/06/when-god-goes-to-starbucks-a-guide-to-everyday-apologetics/ (accessed February 2, 2014).

Palm Beach Atlantic University. Copan, Paul. http://www.pba.edu/index.cfm?fuseaction=faculty.detail&contactID=795 (accessed February 2, 2014).


[1] Credo House Ministries. When God Goes to Starbucks: A Guide to Everyday Apologetics. June 29, 2008. http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2008/06/when-god-goes-to-starbucks-a-guide-to-everyday-apologetics/ (accessed February 2, 2014).

[2] Palm Beach Atlantic University. Copan, Paul. http://www.pba.edu/index.cfm?fuseaction=faculty.detail&contactID=795 (accessed February 2, 2014).

[3] Copan, Paul. When God Goes to Starbucks: A Guide to Everyday Apologetics, 9

[4] ibid

[5] with feet firmly planted in midair!

[6] Copan, Paul. When God Goes to Starbucks: A Guide to Everyday Apologetics, 23

[7] Ibid, 42

[8] Ibid, 59

[9] Ibid, 56

[10] Ibid, 61

[11] Ibid, 73

[12] Ibid, 116

[13] Ibid, 133

[14] Ibid, 201

[15] ibid

[16] Ibid, 123-124

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One thought on “Paul Copan’s When God Goes to Starbucks: A Review

  1. Pingback: A Philosophical Analysis of “How to Murder Children: Bible Style” | Seth Dunn

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